You’ve got spam

By now, most students are pretty smart when it comes to dodging e-mails with the phrase “Make millions now” in the heading.

Spam filters and intuition save most students from opening e-mail messages for such things as male enhancement and debt consolidation.

But sometimes students get hooked into seemingly easy and rewarding part-time jobs through spam e-mails.

Throughout this semester, Academic Computing has filtered numerous spam e-mails from USF WebMail.

“(On Oct. 27) we had a total of 178,000 incoming mail messages,” said Eric Pierce, system administrator for Academic Computing. “Out of that, we had 30,000 messages that were blocked immediately by our machines. Another 33,000 were marked as spam.”

Pierce said that while a few job offers for online surveys might get picked up and filtered by SpamAssassin – a filter program that uses a wide variety of local and network tests to identify spam – some spam may still get through filters.

“It depends on how they would word things,” Pierce said. “But spammers could vary the message, and the same company could send multiple messages. Spammers change their messages around to get messages through scanners.”

One popular job offer circulating through USF WebMail promises $5 to $200 for completing surveys. According to the message, all students have to do is be involved in online discussions.

Other common job offers requires recipients to work as mystery shoppers for $10 to $50 per hour. The e-mails ask for students to reply in order to receive more information.

“One of the worst things you can do is reply to these emails. This sounds like a scam to me,” said Alex Campoe, information security manager for Academic Computing.

USF engineering student Daren Goldin said he’d spent 10 to 30 minutes online filling out surveys that promised three to four dollars for each completed survey.

He answered questions ranging from his favorite place to study to the provider of his auto insurance.

“I got kind of frustrated with it because the general situation was that before you take the actual survey, they make you take a pre-survey to see if you qualify to fill out other surveys.”

But Goldin never got past those pre-surveys.

“I’m over it,” he said. “If it’s a scheme, it seems kind of ideal for a college student, but it’s sketchy. How well will you really want to trust someone on the Internet giving away free money?”

But some online offers can be legitimate.

According to a June 2004 article published in The Wall Street Journal, 31-year-old Jennifer Votile supported herself through online mystery shopping. She received free trips, food and even golf lessons.

USF alumna Laura Eslinger got a free iPod after filling out an online survey.

She said she filled out a 20-question survey, selected a free two-week offer from and had to refer the survey to five other people.

“After completing the offer, you just have to sit back and hope that the five people you referred complete an offer themselves,” Eslinger said.

Although it may seem easy for students to make money or receive free gifts while chatting online, replying to these surveys could cause unwanted problems.

“If you respond to any of them, you’re going to get more spam,” Pierce said. “Even if you’re responding to the ‘take me off’ list, they know your e-mail is good. Then it gets flagged because they sell the list to other spammers.”

Pierce also said the potential for identity theft is high.

Students can block most of these e-mails by enabling SpamAssassin in the Options menu of their WebMail account.